"Lea van Acken is wonderfully cast as Maria, giving us both a childlike naivety and a heart-achingly mature performance"

Director Dietrich Bruggemann tells a chillingly severe story of self-abnegation, sacrifice, love, religious dogma and family dysfunction, in which a young girl is driven to self-destruction in the hope of spiritual martyrdom.

This painful examination of the sacrificial destiny of teenage Maria (Lea van Acken) is skilfully paralleled with that of the Stations of the Cross (the fourteen traditional scenes associated with Jesus’ journey to Golgotha, to his crucifixion).

Filmed mostly in static tableaux, we first meet our young protagonist in a confirmation class where the impassioned Father Weber (Florian Stetter) is instructing (some might say brainwashing) his young, idealistic charges to become soldiers of Jesus and to stand up against their school friends for listening to and advocating ‘satanic music’.

The composition of the scene closely mirrors Da Vinci’s Last Supper and as the Ten Commandments are discussed, along with topics of original sin, pride and envy, the priest casts a flippant remark that may ultimately lead to the shocking events which unfold in the life of impressionable Maria.

At home things do not seem much better for her. A stern, Catholic Mother (Franziska Weisz) berates her at every opportunity and sees nothing but wickedness and sin in her daughter as she continues to mature, both physically and spiritually. One particular scene demonstrates this well, whereby Maria confesses to her Mother that a young boy, Christian, has asked her to join him to come and sing in the Church choir – a choir that performs ‘mostly Bach chorals but also gospel and soul’. It is indeed an understatement to say this does not exactly go down well with Maria’s troubled and zealous Mother.

Trapped in a religion that both celebrates and advocates self-sacrifice and martyrdom, brave, intelligent Maria is conflicted; torn between her independence and her religion. Where other girls her age are listening to this kind of ‘satanic music’, buying cool new clothes, meeting boys and are self-conscious of their body image, she stands alone, against the objectification of her peers and decides to offer her life to God in the hope her mute four-year-old brother’s health will improve so he can live a long and fruitful life.

Lea van Acken is wonderfully cast as Maria, giving us both a childlike naivety and a heart-achingly mature performance, particularly in the latter scenes when we realise there can only be one outcome to this engaging but incomprehensible tale of ultimate sacrifice.